Interview with bi activist Shiri Eisner!
She is famous for her extraordinary book on bisexual theory and activism, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. We are so grateful that she has been supportive of the Bi Women Support Network from the very beginning and that she has graciously agreed to do an interview with us!
Q: If someone hadn’t read your book but wanted to know why bi women have such astronomical rates of rape and sexual assault compared to straight and lesbian women, how would you sum it up?
I would say it was a combination of a few things: first, the enormous sexual objectification of bisexual women in mainstream media and culture. More often than not, we will find bisexual women either explicitly in mainstream porn, or more implicitly in a sexualized (non-pornographic) context. There’s always this presumption about bisexual women that we exist for cishet men’s sexual pleasure. To be fantasy material or a vessel for their sexual desires. It is extremely rare to see mentions of bi women in mainstream culture outside of this context. And obviously, it seeps out. People, and especially cishet men, come to think of bisexual women as real-life sex props whose job is to satisfy their sexual needs. And since bi women are presumed within this fantasy as always willing and eager, this causes a lot of sexual violence. Simply put, what we have to say about it, and whether or not we want to be sexual with anyone, just doesn’t matter. Because our bisexuality is made out to be not about us, but about cishet men.
Then there are also other things: bi women are marginalized by pretty much every community they participate in, either for being women or for being bisexual or for both. A lot of bi women are isolated and don’t have as many resources as other groups - especially since so many of us are women of color, trans women, disabled, etc. We don’t receive as much support as we need, not even close. Which would also explain the extremely high rates of PTSD among bi women. The lack of awareness and attention to bi women’s issues, and especially the issue of sexual violence, means that there’s neither prevention nor support talking place. This is something that urgently needs to change.
Q: While your chapter on bi women was brilliant, it’s unfortunately some of the only writing about the connection between the hypersexualization of bi women and the sexual violence against us. If a bi woman survivor wanted to understand this issue more, what would you recommend?
Thank you! Yes, it’s really horrible that there was little to no discussion about this issue before I brought it up in my book. Dominant discourse about this still mostly revolves around stereotypes and the “don’t assume we’re sluts” kind of arguments, which is slut shaming and all kinds of problematic. However, I’m glad to say that recently there have been a lot of conversations about this on tumblr, this being one of many, and that this is awesome. So exploring your way through bi tumblr, and especially the bi women and sapphobia tags, I think might be useful. Also, there’s a lot of primary material that one can engage with if one is so inclined. Look at mainstream porn, look at TV shows, movies and other media. Read bi women’s stories in anthologies like Bi Any Other Name, Getting Bi or Bisexual Politics. Once you know that this is what’s going on, you’ll see that it’s everywhere.
Q: How have mainstream bi organizations failed bi women victims/survivors? How can they do better?
There’s a kind of duality going on in mainstream bi organizations, where on the one hand most of them are run by bisexual women, but on the other hand, relatively little attention and resources are dedicated to bi women as a group. I should go ahead and say that I don’t know much about what’s going on on the grassroots level, so there might be more going on than I know about. But on the level of community dialogues and awareness of issues, a lot of mainstream bi organizations don’t pay enough attention to that. They rarely talk about issues that are unique to bi women or about the reasons why bisexual women are specifically marginalized.
A good example for this is the debates around the bisexual allies day on this recent Bi Visibility Week in September. A panel made up of representatives from various bisexual groups in the US has formed up a list of themes for each day of Bi Visibility Week. But although there was a day dedicated to bisexual men and one to bi trans people, no day was dedicated to bi women. Apparently allies were deemed to be a higher priority than bi women, maybe not intentionally, but certainly in practice since they were given a day and bi women were not. But when this was pointed out, the women who did the call-outs received enormous backlash, including from some bisexual organizations and people active in them. This means that in mainstream bi communities, the issue of bisexual women and our inclusion is controversial. Which really says a lot, and is problematic in a lot of ways.
I think mainstream bi organizations need to center the voices and experiences of bi women who talk about bifeminism, about sapphobia and about our unique issues. I think more resources need to be dedicated to bi women’s issues. Generally, I think more bi organizations needs to take up bifeminism and to use it as basis for addressing all of this within bi communities and outside of them.
Q: This post on healing from rape as a bi woman was recently published. Do you have any strategies or advice for self care as a bi survivor?
This post is pretty much perfect. (Editor’s note: Thank you!)
In terms of things that have helped me as a survivor, I think support from friends, and especially bi survivor friends, is an invaluable resource. Just knowing that you’re not alone even if you may feel that you are, as so many of us are wont to do. Also the bi tumblr community in particular has been very good about making me feel that I’m not completely alone, just by sort of existing. Knowing that there’s this awesome supportive bisexual community that’s talking about these issues and giving each other support. I also think that accountability processes and community responses to violence are an incredibly powerful tool, which more bi communities need to adopt.
Self care is another really useful concept. Learning what it is that you need in order to feel better and then giving it to yourself when you feel the need. For example, for me it can be music, crochet, watching a movie or a TV show, writing, crying, taking a hot shower, or maybe even doing the dishes. Everyone has things that can make her feel better and more calm, and we can memorize them and use them as a box of tools in cases when we need it.
Q: Do you have anything else to add?
In the context of the last few days, and the enormous amounts of backlash that bifeminist women have been receiving for speaking up against misogyny in bi communities - I need to say something about what all of this means. Because backlash has come not only from bi men on tumblr, but also from mainstream bi groups on facebook. I think there’s something deeply disturbing about the fact that bifeminism is controversial in bi communities. That bi women who want to call out misogyny pay such high prices and have to undergo so many forms of silencing, from seemingly “intellectual” counter-arguments to explicit rape threats and everything in between, just for calling out bad behaviour. I think bisexual communities, and bisexual men in particular, need to urgently rethink their stances about bisexual women, sapphobia and bifeminism. There’s this belief that bi men are exempt from the patriarchy and can’t possibly be misogynist because they are bisexual. There’s also a belief that bisexual communities are always flawless and that no work has to be done in order to correct anything, while those who raise problematic issues are perceived as “divisive” for calling them out. I think everyone needs to take a close look at this dynamic and realize how urgently it needs to change. Dominant attitudes in a lot of bi communities are seriously damaging to bisexual women and need to stop. There’s a lot of shit being stirred up to the surface right now, and this is an excellent opportunity to think about all this.